Bone: The complete edition by Jeff Smith

This is one of those books that made me wonder why the world was still turning as if nothing had happened when I finished it. I was so engrossed in the story that I wanted to talk about it with everyone. This comic book has everything: humour, adventure, excitement. It had me bite my nails because it was so scary and it also had me cheering with the protagonists when things went right. And also very important, the ending was very satisfying. However, this comic has over a thousand pages, consisting of nine volumes in total, and I knew it would be hard to convince anyone to read it and read it quickly as well because I am not patient. Let me use this review to convince you to read this amazing epic adventure comic. I’ll be reviewing the comic series as a whole which consists of nine volumes. The target audience for this book is children around twelve years old.

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This story fits within the fantasy genre: it is set in a world different from ours and besides humans, other creatures are living in this world. There are the creatures called ‘Bones’, which are the white ones in the picture, dragons, rat creatures and locusts. The story starts when three Bone cousins, the protagonist Fone Bone, careless Smiley Bone and shady businessman Phoncible Bone, are chased out of Boneville because of one of Phoncibles schemes has gone wrong. Eventually, they end up in a valley which looks very idyllic and peaceful. In the valley, the cousins look for someone who can show them the way back to Boneville. Before they can leave, however, winter sets in with a big thud and they are stuck. In the picture, you see how suddenly winter set in, one example of the slapstick humour. Luckily, they meet Thorn and her grandmother Rose in the forest and they are allowed to stay until the end of winter. Life in the valley is peaceful at first, full of chores and hard work and watching grandmother Rose compete with cows in a running match. However, soon it becomes clear that things are not as peaceful as they seem. After the first two volumes, the story takes a darker turn and the adventure takes its full shape.


One day, Fone Bone meets the Red Dragon in the forest who tells him of the threat of the Lord of the Locusts. The Lord of the locust is the leader of a plague of locusts out for the destruction of the lives of the people in the valley. The people of the valley have been at war with the Lord of the Locust before. At that time the people in the valley were united as a kingdom and dragons lived among them. During the war, their king and queen were killed and the last descendant, a baby girl, disappeared together with the dragons. The people of the valley narrowly won the war with the locusts at that time. Now, the threat is bigger because there is no king or queen anymore to reunite the people of the valley. Throughout the first few volumes, the only thing the Bone cousins want is to return to their own town. However, slowly they get dragged into the war and before long they find themselves fighting the locust threat along with the people from the valley.

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As I said before, this book is a mix of humour with a chilling adventure. This creates a good balance where the book never becomes completely dark, which makes the scary scenes easier to take. I think that’s a good thing in a book aimed at children. When the story gets too scary, there will be a joke to break the tension. One recurring joke is the rat creatures. They are dangerous because they constantly chase all the characters to eat them. However, whenever they manage to catch someone they fail to eat them because the creatures cannot agree on how to prepare their catch. One of the rat creatures dreams of trying out a quiche. However, the other creature doesn’t want that because it is not evil enough for a rat creature. Every time they catch someone they discuss how to prepare their meal at such length that their catch easily escapes. The scary parts are the choices the characters have to make and how they deal with the consequences of their decisions. When they make a bad decision other people suffer because of it and their friends get into danger. This made the story realistic because in every war tough decisions have to be made and there are consequences of those decision to deal with. Those consequences forced the characters to grow and to become better than they are so the war can be won and their friends will be saved. Jeff Smith managed to portray the growth of each character very well.

I own two physical copies of this series: the first one is all nine volumes in colour in separate books. The second version is one massive collection of 1000+ pages of all the volumes in black and white. I first read the series digitally in black and white and when I got the coloured version I decided I didn’t like it and got the black and white version. Reviewers on Goodreads suggest they coloured in the drawings to appeal to children more. That might be true, but for me, the colours distract from Jeff Smith’s amazing drawing style. It is a whimsical, detailed style that gives each creature he created a life of its own. Also, his style distracts a bit from the scary elements of the story. I prefer the black and white version as well because that fits more with the darkness within the story and it balances the scary and humour parts better. The coloured version looks too silly to me. But I am also predisposed to like black and white children comics because they remind me of time spent at my grandparents’ place. They had a Ducktales comic in black and white which I read at least fifty times. Sometimes I was also allowed to colour in the pictures myself which I always loved. It made me feel like an artist and part of the creation of the stories. Compare for yourself the coloured pages versus black and white:


In conclusion, I want to say that this is a whirlwind fantasy story that benefits of its length because once you pass the first volume you’ll find yourself turning pages like a maniac which won’t run out! This story is often compared to Lord of the Rings, but funnier. Both stories are indeed epic long adventure stories where unwilling heroes fight an ominous threat. However, there are more differences: Bone is aimed at children and consequently has a more an innocent feel to it; there is more humour in Bone; Bone is a Jeff tells his story with images and words in an excellent way. Adults and children alike – those who love to emerge themselves in a big epic adventure story – would all love this story. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life, read this book so I have someone to talk to about it. You won’t regret it.

Goosebumps Award  for giving us a story that is scary, and also so much fun

 

Jeff Smith, Bone: The complete collection (Columbus,  1991)

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Bella G. Bear

 

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that no contemporary book has a fan base quite as big as the Harry Potter series. If I were to guess, I’d say that everyone who reads this review has already read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone except for one person who has made a conscious decision not to and one very confused American who will realise in a minute that actually, he has. However! Have you read the particular edition that is illustrated by the marvellous British illustrator Jim Kay? If you haven’t, here’s why you should.

This is the first book in the Harry Potter series, in which Harry Potter turns eleven years old and discovers that he is a wizard. There are many editions of this popular book in existence, some of which are very beautiful, but what makes this version special is that it relies just as much on illustrations as it does on words to tell the story. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone contains, firstly, the kind of pictures you expect when you hear the word ‘illustration’: small watercolours next to the text or in the background and decorations around chapter titles.

But now and then you turn a page to discover a full-page painting that feels like you could reach into the book to touch whatever magical scene is depicted.

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Kay’s style is vibrant, full of warm colours and has a strong sense of atmosphere. From one illustration to the next, the focus can be different, but the overall style remains coherent. Take, for instance, this insanely detailed picture of Diagon Alley, that actually runs over four pages in total:

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And compare that with this relatively plain portrait of Draco Malfoy:

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The two pictures seem nothing alike, except that the street that we see seems the only possible place that this boy, with his piercing gaze and long robes, can exist. Kay has succeeded in creating a visual world that seems real and complete in itself, just like Rowling did with words.

As you probably know, the Harry Potter world is quite harsh. You forget it sometimes, especially in the first few books in the series, but the wizards and witches can be distant and manipulative and callous even when Voldemort is nowhere around. Kay has grasped this and plays with it in glorious contrasts:

Hagrid’s little shack looks as comfortable as you can imagine, a place to feel safe and loved. The Forbidden Forest is eerie, but beautiful. Hogwarts is both wonderful and imposing. Remember, not only is this castle centuries old and made to keep bad people out, but this is also the first time Harry, Ron and Hermione see it, as it is their first year in school. I’d be very overwhelmed if I saw Hogwarts for the first time, from the viewpoint of a tiny boat in an enormous lake no less.

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When I read a book, I have a very vivid image in my head of what people and places look like. This is why, for me, books and film adaption always exist more or less next to each other. The atmosphere of what Kay has created is remarkable close to what I imagined when reading the story for the first time, which is one of the reasons I love it so much. I can imagine that the pictures don’t speak to you if your own mental picture is completely different. Even if that is the case, the illustrations are drawn so skillfully and with so much expression, each of them can exist and be appreciated on its own.

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Jim Kay is an illustrator and concept artist who lives in Northamptonshire with his partner, who is a designer and milliner. Kay has worked in the Libraries & Archives of Tate Britain and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. His love for museums, libraries and gardens is evident in his drawings: detailed backgrounds and textures are often inspired by real places. The door in this picture of Hermione conjuring a light, for example, is based on the door of All Saints church in Thornham.

Kay has done his research by visiting stately homes, churches and mansions which gives his illustrations a distinctly British character, in accordance with the story. One of the things I love the most is how overgrown Hogwarts is with ivy and other plants. In this picture, part of the castle is even built on trees:

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It is nearly the last picture in the book, at the point in the story when the children are going home for the summer. In the course of the book, Hogwarts has become Harry’s home and he has made the wizarding world his own. Hogwarts in this picture is inviting, the place where he is confident he will be returning to in the autumn.

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I think the fandom’s ubiquity has made the love for Harry Potter a thing that is often hijacked by commercial exploitation. These illustrations remind me of why I loved these books in the first place: the magical world, the rampant imagination that sets the story alight and the host of misfit characters. There are many more pictures to marvel at, from a Norwegian Ridgeback that is taken straight from Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland, to a nightly aerial view of Hogwarts, to a regal portrait of Professor McGonagall. Take your time to savour them and you might be inspired to take up a brush or pencil yourself. As Kay writes on his website:

“For all those young readers who like to draw, keep scribbling! Remember, it’s your ideas that are important, the technique will come along with practice. So don’t be down-hearted if things don’t always come out the way you’d intended. I’ve never produced an illustration that I think is ‘finished’ or that I’m particularly happy with, but I keep trying. Sometimes it’s the mistakes that make us interesting and different, in my opinion.”

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Baz Luhrmann Award for a dazzling visual take on a classic

J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London 2015, story originally 1997)

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Jo Robin

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3) by Maggie Stiefvater

Here I am again, reviewing the third instalment in this wonderful series. I’m struggling to write a review that isn’t just yet another read-this-book!-type of thing, but I’ll do my best to provide some new information as well. This year, I’ve headed in a new direction of life by way of doing a different course in university, which will take me another three years to complete at least. This means that I’m meeting a lot of new people, I have to change my studying strategies because I’ll have to study a lot and it means I’m expected to figure out who I am on my own. A part of me keeps hoping I’ll meet a Ronan or Gansey among these new people, or that I might find a character trait within myself that will bring me closer to their kind of quest. So, long story short, I find it hard letting go of these amazing characters.

This review will, once again, contain some spoilers, so if you’re not familiar with this series, I’d like to refer you to my review of the first book, which can be found here and contains no spoilers at all. My review on the second book, which can be found here, is mostly centred on Ronan, as did the second book. This one is all about Blue and her strange little family at 300 Fox Way. If I were to summarize this book, I’d say it’s about a strange, but safe young girl, who finds out the world can be cruel, unfair, misleading and, most of all, uncertain. The tone of this book is so much darker and while comedy still plays a part in this one, it’s getting hard to ignore the tragedies unfolding in our gang’s life. Luckily, they have each other and they seem to be closer than ever: they no longer deal with individual problems, but one man’s problem is the group’s problem. Keep all of this in mind when reading the following summary of this novel.

As mentioned, this book is not only darker in atmosphere, but it’s also more mystical. The novel starts off with Persephone teaching Adam about how he can tap into the ley line’s power. At the same time, Maura, Blue’s mother, is missing. When Calla, another housemate at 300 Fox Way, and Blue search her room, they find that she has gone underground, literally, to find her former lover. Blue feels orphaned in every sense, but still goes along with the gang when they explore Cabeswater: the magical forest. Whether Cabeswater is made of dreams or lives off dreams isn’t quite clear, but the situation becomes extremely perilous when Gansey falls in a cave and suddenly fears there will be bees. Remember, he is deadly allergic to them and remember also, the forest can make whatever you think into reality, and so Gansey’s fear is what could kill him in that moment. To make matters worse, Noah has started to act strangely and when I say strangely, I mean he appears to be possessed by some malevolent demon.

Whichever way you look at it, this story begins with Blue. When an old British professor comes over from England to advise Gansey on the lay lines, he shows them a picture of a tapestry that belonged to Glendower. On the tapestry three women are depicted, all with Blue’s face. The Gray Man’s employer, Colin Greenmantle, shows up at her house, threatening the Gray Man to deliver Ronan to him, or he’ll kill Blue’s mother. Colin’s creepy wife, Piper, also makes her preparations to go after Maura underground. Not knowing what to do, Blue decides to return to the cave, although she has been warned about a curse. By far the most scary thing happening in this book is the scene that then plays out: Noah appears to be possessed once again, turns to Blue and says emotionless ‘Blue Lily, Lily Blue.’ They eventually find a tomb in the cave, open it up, but instead of finding the king Glendower, they find Gwenllian Glendower, his daughter. The book ends with yet another mysterious cave and a strange journey inside of it, Blue bearing the brunt of it all and Adam having far too many responsibilities. So you could say: whichever way you look at it, the story ends with Adam.

I realise that this summary makes very little sense, but neither does the book. When you’re reading, you’re part of the action and everything is happening all at once. At first, I didn’t like this and I put it down to sloppy writing. But it’s not. As a reader you’re feeling everything the characters are feeling. You feel Gansey’s mortal fear, you feel Blue’s loss and absolutely helplessness, you feel Adam’s power as well as his inexperience, you feel Ronan’s raw anger and you can even feel Maura moving underground. The series is coming to an end and everything is happening now, all at once. I’ve already mentioned how much I love the characters and how much I want them to be real, but they are real now. Because Stiefvater has added another very important dimension to all characters in this book: their vulnerability. Interestingly enough, this is their strength in this book. Gansey turns into The Knight: he is as delicate as ever, but honour seems to be above all things now. Blue is the Page of Cups: she is the only non-psychic one at her home, which means she is a mirror and incredibly powerful in her sense of helplessness. Ronan is the Greywaren: my hooligan who seems to know nothing but loss, but still has the ability to dream and is perfecting that ability as we speak. Adam is the Magician: abused, hurt, but definitely coming into his own. My prediction is that this series will end with Adam.

One of the great things in this novel is that we’re finally moving on when it comes to the story. The second book and the first part of this book were for a large part establishing characters and their relationships. We know this now and there is no more time for reflection. Action! Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploring of people’s hearts and souls, but I still really do want to know what happens with and to Glendower! Finding his sleeping daughter and waking her up was such a plot twist to me. I was prepared for one ancient Welsh king, but his ancient sleeping daughter? Did not see that coming, and I’m not even talking about her personality yet. I love how the gang is finally asking the right questions, like: where is Cabeswater coming from? Why are we looking for this king? What do we want from him? Interestingly enough, the most important teenage question is now taking a backseat, being: Who am I? But through their search they’re getting closer and closer to an answer to that question especially, even when all the other things still remain mysteries.

I am beginning to think that this is a series you’ll either love or hate. It is, however, the series I would recommend to anyone sceptical about Young Adult literature, because I was one of you, and I’ve changed my mind completely. I’ve told you about the great characters, Stiefvater’s talent for creating atmosphere and now there’s the action: it’s fast-paced, clever, unexpected and never-ending. If they were to make a film out of this series, deciding on a genre would be a challenge, but this book especially would make a wonderful film. It feels like a cinematic experience when you read it, with images flashing past and plot twists around every corner. I think this is where I’ll end my review and pick up the fourth book, with the hope that I have sold this book on all fronts now. Action-lovers, romantics, great readers of old literature, scholars, freaks and admirers of psychology and anthropology: this book is the one for you.

Hitchcock Award: For scaring the shit out of me when I didn’t need it

Maggie Stiefvater, Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3) (New York, 2014)

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Thura Nightingale 

Desert Flower by Waris Dirie and Cathleen Miller

The woman in the picture is model Waris Dirie. She is a pastoralist woman from the Somali tribe from Somalia. Pastoralist means she grew up herding the camels and goats of her family moving from place to place as a nomad. Waris Dirie her youth was very typical for a pastoralist girl, including the ritual of female genital mutilation (FGM). In FGM the female sexual organs are circumcised and sewn together as a cultural practice. This book tells Dirie’s life story from her time in the desert, where she was cut, until she became an activist and ambassador for the UN to fight for women’s rights and against FGM. Female empowerment is the main theme of the book and throughout Waris Dirie’s life. I must warn you that the FGM ritual is described with a lot of graphic details. This biography is written by Cathleen Miller, who is a professional non-fiction writer of stories with political meaning.

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The story starts in the desert where Dirie and her family scrape out a livelihood with their livestock. Despite the hardships, it is described as a happy youth. The only thing that disturbs that is when she is circumcised. But to her it is a normal practice, so when she is healed life continues as before, although there are added health challenges caused by the circumcision such as an extreme painful menstruation. That is, until her father decides to marry her to an old man. Waris Dirie flees from her family and  runs through the desert. She ends up in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. There she lives with her sister until she gets the offer to become a house servant in London for a wealthy uncle on a diplomatic mission. In London, she becomes a model who travels all over the world. Through an interview in a magazine where she opens up about FGM, she becomes an activist and UN ambassador. There are many more things happening in her life between arriving in London and becoming a model, but for that, you have to read the book.

The book talks about the many challenges Waris Dirie faced in her life from illiteracy, poverty, the threat of deportation, exile and racism. But the toughest challenge was dealing with the reality and repercussions of FGM. FGM is an extremely painful ritual which can lead to death and other health complications during the procedure and in the rest of the girls’ lives. In Waris Dirie’s case, her sexual organs were sown together to only leave a small hole to pee or menstruate. This makes menstruation painful and makes sex and pregnancies a risk. I mention the graphic details on purpose because that is how it is written down in this book. I think it is written like that because Waris Dirie wants people to know the truth of what happens, and not a watered-down version people can wave away as ‘not that bad’.

Waris Dirie decides to become an activist to prevent other girls from undergoing the same ritual. Also, she wants to break the silence around the subject. When Dirie first arrived in London she did not know that what happened to her is not normal. She finds out because of how easy other girls have when they pee. However, she doesn’t dare to talk about it or to ask questions to her friends or the doctor. For her, and many women like her there is a big taboo to talk about their sexual organs, also in front of a doctor. I read somewhere that this book helped to start outlawing FGM. I can understand that because the book talks about it openly, including parts of the issues which are not immediately apparent, such as the stigma and fear of women to admit what happened to them. Waris Dirie finds the courage to go to a doctor to find out what happened to her and to see what can be done to make her life easier. There are surgeries available to help with this. My hope is that other women will find the courage to do the same when they read this book.

Looking at all Waris Dirie’s achievements, you can say that she managed to build a successful life away from the culture and habits of her youth. However, there is also a sense of sadness and nostalgia in her story. She misses nomadic life and her country and family and there are certain Western habits she could never get used to. Things like exact timekeeping with a watch and accumulating a lot of possessions. She grew up relying on the position of the sun in the sky to know the time and to be able to travel light. At some point, she is exiled from Somalia because of immigration issues, and the thought of never seeing her mother again brings her to a very low point. It is clear that Waris Dirie loves the culture and country she comes from, even though she dedicated her life to fighting certain parts of that culture. It is an important point to note in stories about activism and discussions of changing certain cultural practices that we don’t compare one country or culture with others in terms of good and bad, with a conclusion that one culture should make room for another one. It is more important to discuss the good and bad of cultural practices and judge them depending on that. This book does a very good job with that because Waris Dirie talks about her likes and dislikes of Western culture and her time as a pastoralist woman openly and honestly.

The last thing I want to discuss is the writing style of the book because it felt strange to me. It reads as if the story was not completely edited before the book was published. I read the Dutch translation of the book though, so I don’t know what the original English is like. However, there were a lot of short sentences and half descriptions. For example, Waris Dirie talks about her ex-husband who stalks her and even follows her to New York. But she doesn’t go into detail. That makes it sound like it was no big deal to her and that events in her life follow on each other without having much impact on herself. However, that can’t be true. Everything that happens to us shapes us in one way or another. So, this is probably because of the way the story is edited or translated, keeping to the facts and leaving interpretations to the reader.

At the core of this book is the story of female empowerment. Waris Dirie is determined to live her life the way she wants and her resilience to overcome challenges is an inspiration to us all. The prevalence of FGM has gone down since Waris Dirie’s youth, but it is still happening to this day. This book contributes to showing people the truth of the FGM practice and the pain and repercussions of the practice for women. However, this book is not only that. It also talks of the resilience of a woman who underwent FGM and did not let that determine her fate. Reading the graphic scene of Waris Dirie’s circumcision left me sleepless. However, reading how she overcomes her challenges and became an activist for women inspired me to fight for women’s rights in my own way to honour Waris Dirie her legacy and those of the many other women doing similar work. One way of doing that is by sharing stories of women like Waris Dirie to empower them and to create awareness about what’s happening.

Sleepless nights award to think of ways for women empowerment so we can decide what happens to our own bodies.

 

Waris Dirie & Cathleen Miller, Desert Flower (London, 1998)

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Bella G. Bear